TROY — Heart attacks happen suddenly, but they are the result of internal blockages that can take years to develop. Heart disease rarely reveals itself through symptoms in its earliest and most treatable stages, and heart attacks are most often the first sign of any heart trouble. However, those with intermediate risk for heart disease do not have to live in fear. Warning signs are there; they just need to be uncovered.
Having a heart CT is an easy way to discover early-stage heart disease before symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath arise. The scan, available at Upper Valley Medical Center and all Premier Health hospitals, measures calcium in the arteries that lead to the heart. Calcium deposits can indicate plaque building up in coronary arteries, obstructing blood flow to the heart.
Known as calcium scoring, the measurement taken by the scan helps doctors determine whether patients with certain risk factors have developed coronary artery disease. Risk factors that might indicate a need to have the test performed include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, living a sedentary lifestyle, family history and age.
The test serves as a screening tool for coronary artery disease, much like mammograms help uncover the presence of breast cancer. Likewise, the simple act of undergoing the screening alone will not reduce a person’s risk of having a heart attack, but how they respond to their results can. Depending on the calcium score, a doctor might prescribe medication, recommend following up with a stress test, or suggest having a heart catheterization to find out whether there are any arterial obstructions.
Maintaining good cholesterol levels, keeping blood pressure in check and modifying lifestyle behaviors such as diet, sleep and stress level are, of course, also key to keeping heart disease at bay.
While calcium scoring is not part of heart disease treatment, it is an important component of heart disease prevention. The heart requires a continuous supply of oxygen to stay healthy and strong. Healthy arteries are clean and smooth, allowing for easy blood flow. Arteries that become hard and thick with plaque, however, disrupt blood flow. Reduced blood flow can cause chest pain or, in the event of a total blockage, trigger a heart attack. If a person’s calcium score is high, steps can be taken to keep their plaque amount stable. Preventing plaque buildup can postpone or reduce a person’s need for surgical interventions and even ward off heart attacks.
Measuring a person’s calcium score with a Premier Health heart CT scan is quick, making radiation exposure minimal. Images taken by the CT scanner provide a cross-sectional view of the coronary arteries so the amount of calcium in them can be measured. The imaging test takes less than 30 minutes and involves no needles, dyes or exercise. The cost is $99, payable at the time of the scan, and results are sent to the patient’s health care provider.
To schedule a Premier Health heart CT, call 855-887-7364.